Michael Desmond / AMC

Madison Plots On Jeremiah's Prepper Farm On Fear The Walking Dead

Maddie's trying to work all the angles against a charismatic leader who's definitely no angel.

One of the more repetitive plotlines in the Walking Dead/Fear The Walking Dead universe is when the survives end up at a seemingly safe place, only to learn that its leader and its people are evil, or cannibals, or just really ill-suited to survive in a world full of zombies. That could be on a farm, a prison, what appears to be a startup-style factory, or -- in the latest FearTWD -- a ranch for doomsday preppers led by Jeremiah Otto.

Jeremiah is folksy, and drew people to his compound with cheesy VHS-era infomercials (the cold open is a pitch-perfect example of How To Survive Teotwawki, tracking lines and all). And as you would expect from someone who declares "The great American experiment has failed" as a call to action, he's got dark secrets, including a homicidal son and some anger issues that come to light when Madison stumbles on a not-approved-for-public-consumption VHS tape from his library.

Whether this will go the way of what usually happens -- carnage, a gun battle, and the place overrun by the undead -- remains to be seen (my money is on "yes"), but in the meantime, it's being set up as a battle of wills and smarts between Maddie and Jeremiah, who seem at first wary of each other (Jeremiah: "Are you a hard woman to like?"), then seeming to understand each other, then -- once Maddie realizes that this guy could be more psycho than he appears -- who knows what.

For her part, Maddie has quickly swallowed her grief over Travis in order to secure her family's place at the Otto compound. When a somber memorial for helicopter badass Charlene takes place, Madison uses it as an opportunity to introduce her family and remind everybody that, yes, they may have inadvertently created an awkward situation with Charlene's death, but did you know they lost Travis, a guy nobody there knows? "Thank you for sheltering us and thank you for your generosity," she says. "We'll repay it." She also urges Nick and Alicia to ingratiate themselves to the community; they do, each in their own way. Nick has a physical tussle with resident jerk Troy that turns into a super-bro bonding moment. And Alicia hooks up with a group of teens who are secret potheads posing as a Bible study group. They also have a still-moving zombie head they keep around for kicks. Alicia is weirdly impressed.

Troy, for his part, sees right through what Maddie is doing, calling her out for playing the victim card at the memorial. We also see that while he has no compunctions about killing sick people for research, he was very likely severely abused by his father, and even through that took care of his alcoholic mother until she died. There's a lot more to Troy than evil, and there's probably a lot we don't know about his older brother Jake, who up to now has seemed like a super-likeable, stand-up guy.

What I'm most curious about is whether Jeremiah has more depth than just being a canny, angry seller of the prepper myth to his followers, or if he actually has as much empathy for his flock as he'd like Maddie to believe. You can imagine another timeline where Travis is still around and Maddie isn't so desperate to make her sure family can fit in and survive. Would Jeremiah have seemed like more of a father-figure type to her, someone she could eventually trust as Rick Grimes did Hershel Greene on The Walking Dead?

It may not matter what Jeremiah Otto's intentions are. Once he shows Maddie his giant stockpile of supplies, it doesn't make her admire his planning or want to help him keep this stash safe. Instead, it seems to make her even more intent on taking over the ranch, with or without his cooperation. It would be kind of genius if the show went in the direction of turning Maddie into a Big Bad -- a sort of Governor 2.0 lording over her ill-gotten ranch kingdom, because keeping her a scrappy protector moving from place to place hasn't done much to make her more interesting as a character. But given the history of this franchise, it's much more likely that Maddie's plotting will go horribly wrong, and her family will again be left with no home, more wounds, and one or two fewer members.

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